Girding Up for Durban II

By LESLIE SUSSER
September 28, 2008 11:35
3 minute read.

 
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An article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. With the U.N. follow-up conference on racism, dubbed "Durban II," just 7 months away, pro-Israeli NGOs are leading a move to persuade major European countries to stay away. When the first anti-racism conference, held in the South African city of Durban in 2001, degenerated into a festival of unabated Israel bashing, Israel and the United States walked out. Now, concerned that the follow-up conference slated for Geneva next April, will take on a similarly anti-Israel bias, the NGOs - backed by the Israeli government and Israel's supporters in the U.S. Congress - are urging European countries not to lend the event legitimacy by attending. The agenda for Durban II is largely being shaped by Libya, the preparatory conference chairman, and the so-called "Friends of the Chairman," who include Egypt, Iran, Cuba and Pakistan. NGOs monitoring preparatory conference proceedings say the chairman and friends' work on a final statement suggests that Israel will be the only country singled out for racist practices, and that Western anti-terrorist measures will be excoriated as "Islamaphobic." The way the wind is blowing can also be gauged by the fact that "The Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign," an umbrella organization dedicated to comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa, was accredited without debate, while some Jewish NGOs have been denied accreditation, such as the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy. Pro-Israel NGOs, like NGO Monitor and Eye on the U.N. are running a three-pronged campaign to lessen the impact of Durban II: Urging governments and charitable foundations not to fund its activities, calling for a wide-reaching boycott, and planning a strong pro-Israeli presence in the streets outside the conference hall. They have had some significant successes. The Canadian government and the Ford Foundation, both of which made large contributions to Durban I, are not directly funding anything related to Durban II. In the U.S., Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has tabled a bill barring American funding of the Geneva event. Moreover, Canada and Israel have decided to boycott Durban II, with the U.S. and Australia likely to follow suit. The battle now is over European participation. "If Europe goes, Durban II will not be delegitimized, but if Europe stays at home, it will be exposed," says Gerald Steinberg, director of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor. In Steinberg's view, the French position will be key, partly because France currently holds the rotating EU presidency and partly because French President Nicolas Sarkozy may press for a boycott. Last February, Sarkozy indicated that France might stay away, declaring bluntly that it would "not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001." Steinberg, however, notes that Sarkozy's remarks were not coordinated with the French diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay, and that, on balance, the current tendency in Paris is to attend. That is also the case in Spain, Scandinavia, Belgium and Austria. On the other hand, Eastern European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia favor a boycott. Italy would probably join them, according to Steinberg, while Britain and Germany remain undecided. Steinberg will brief the European Parliament in November in an attempt to persuade member countries to stay away. He says much will depend on the position the new American president takes. "The Europeans will study the recommendations of the preparatory committee, which is due to finish its work in October. Then they will wait to see what the president does, before deciding by the end of next February," says Steinberg. This time, Steinberg says, pro-Israeli groups will not leave the streets of Geneva to the Israel bashers as was the case at Durban I and he notes that one of the conference days coincides with Holocaust Memorial Day. "On that day, there will be appropriate public activities for Yom Hashoah outside the conference hall, which will highlight the contrast with the travesty going on inside," he tells The Jerusalem Report. An article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.

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